The small cardboard box on Reina’s lap looked as if someone had assaulted it with a baseball bat before shoving it down a flight of stairs.
Reina wouldn’t have put that past her mother.
A mixture of Cuban and Irish blood was a potent cocktail that yielded terrible results in her mother, who was 4’9 and daily spit bitter venom in the midst of heated arguments. Once wronged, her mother was reticent to forgive without bribery, groveling, or dramatic appeals for mercy.
Reina learned this lesson the hard way. When she saw fathers pick up their children after school or play with their children in the evenings, Reina would wonder aloud about her own father’s whereabouts.
“Dónde está mi papa,” she’d asked quietly.
“Él está muerto,” her mother would respond flatly, with no emotion in her voice.
The lie her mother had told her had become truth. Her father was dead, and not just to her mother.
Twenty years later Reina knew where her father was. An urned had arrived on their doorstep that morning addressed to Reina– it was her father’s final wishes, according to his will. Soon after, her mother had brought down a battered box while muttering about ghosts and memories.
Reina hesitantly opened the flaps of the box, only to discover that inside was a perfectly kept florilegium of her father’s life. Several leather-bound books, letters, old photos, and small drawings, were all perfectly preserved inside, tied together with a red scarf.
She held them delicately in her hands, as if they were a newborn or a priceless family heirloom. It shocked her to think that her father had touched these things, that they had been part of his life. Her fingertips delicately stroked the red leather covers of each journal.
Thoughts of a man who didn’t want her or her mother, whispered for her to leave this stranger’s life unopened. She questioned if she was brave enough to find out the truth about the man who was always absent for Father’s Day, never around for father-daughter dances, and would never walk her down the aisle.
In one motion, Reina untied the red scarf and opened the first journal.